Ken Loach and Paul Laverty Sing Out About "Carla's Song"
by Brandon Judell
Ken Loach has never made an easy film. “Fatherland” (1986), “Hidden
Agenda” (1990), and “Riff-Raff” (1991) are a few prime examples
supporting that claim. In fact, such a thorn in the side was he to the
powers-that-be in the eighties, that his TV documentaries on the union
movement, “Questions of Leadership,” were banned from broadcast by
pro-Thatcherite policy makers. But he survived Margaret and grandly.
Now with Paul Laverty, a former Glasgow lawyer who spent time in
Nicaragua in 1984, serving as his screenwriter, Loach has turned his
always justified venom on the U.S. Government.
“Carla’s Song” is a love story where politics, and not who squeezes the
toothpaste at the wrong end, are the obstacle. Stevie (Robert Carlyle),
a Scottish bus driver, falls in love with a mentally tortured
Nicaraguan girl (Oyanka Cabezas) who boards his bus. He soon discovers
that the only way he can rid the young woman of her demons is to return
with her to her homeland. The year is 1987, and this will be no Club Med
(Our chat took place in a noisy, low rent diner due to the fact that The
Wellington Hotel, where Mr. Loach and Mr. Laverty were staying, could
not get its act together.)
indieWIRE: Now, the American public — most would argue — is not into
having their features brimming with serious fare.
Ken Loach: You could say Americans in North America.
iW: They just seem to want Entertainment with a capital E. I was maybe
unreasonably shocked, but shocked nonetheless, that your shattering
“Ladybird, Ladybird” (1994) was not more of a hit over here. Now you
make “Carla’s Song.” Are you aware your films will reach only a limited
Loach: I guess to answer the question . . . It’s connected with the fact
. . . that audiences want a certain color film I guess is connected to
the fact that North Americans can allow their government to act in such
a way that can spread terrorism and murder around the world. I guess
it’s connected to the fact … If it’s true as you say that people only
want . . . I don’t think it’s true. I think people do have an appetite
to talk seriously sometimes or to talk… to deal with things that are
not always frivolous. But if people do have that [limited] appetite and
if you are right, then it’s maybe connected to the fact that people
allow their government to act in such a way that they’re quite happy to
spread terrorism throughout other parts of the world.
iW: For all the news coverage we got on Nicaragua in the States, most
Americans, including myself, still had trouble understanding what
happening over there. But then your lead character wasn’t the wiser
iW: He had to ask his sister who was of school age for an explanation.
Loach: But then our lead character’s government wasn’t in on the
Paul Laverty: To go back to that question, I think it’s very interesting
because it wasn’t simply . . . Nicaragua is not that far away really,
and at the same time that Congress voted $100 million to the Contras in
Nicaragua, there was coming out a whole blanket of misinformation. You
know I used to see articles regularly that were published in The New
York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post. In fact, there
were studies of those done by academics, and it was just quite
incredible to see how much misinformation there was on Nicaragua.
The whole picture that was represented again and again and again was
that Nicaragua was some sort of Communist totalitarian government. When
you actually went there, there were 14 opposition parties. There were
dozens and dozens of free radio stations. There was though some trouble
So what you actually saw was a great deal of misinformation. So it’s no
accident that so many North Americans thought what was happening down
there was totally different than the picture. And I used to speak to
dozens and dozens of delegations from the United States that would go
down there, and they were honestly flabbergasted to find out exactly
what was going on: that U.S. tax dollars were being used to murder
civilians in a systematic fashion.
iW: But you are saying there were false stories in The New York Times
and all our other major newspapers. As for our TV, its coverage of all
events tends to be very conservative. So how is the public supposed to
learn? Your film with your side of the story has come out so many years
after the war is over.
Loach: I think this is where you have a responsibility as a journalist,
as a writer, as a communicator, to scrutinize what’s going on. To tell
people what’s going on. That’s what the media is, isn’t it? Mediums.
Mediums are communication. I guess in any State which has a very strong
ideological line, the media by and large follow that line, and that’s
the problem here. The problem in our country is also that the media by
and large follows the ideological line of the State. But nevertheless
people within that have to try to uncover stories that may go against
that line. That’s just a responsibility you and I share, isn’t it?
iW: In “Welcome to Sarajevo,” there’s a scene where the reporter got the
story and the BBC wouldn’t air it. It wasn’t considered big enough
compared to Royal gossip.
Loach: Well, maybe. But would that be the case for you in your
iW: None of the publications I write for would even have given me a one
way ticket to Nicaragua. indieWIRE, for whom this piece is for, wouldn’t
even pay for this trip to midtown to interview you. However, when there
was a Nicaragua press junket being planned to see you direct “Carla’s
Song,” I did get permission from my editors at Detour magazine for a
story, and your very snooty British publicist nixed me.
Loach: I can believe that. I can believe that.